It is generally accepted amongst fans, journalists, players and managers alike that a week is a long time in football, and by that token a year must be an eternity. So, with that in mind it is an almost thankless task trying to sum up the footballing year so far; one would invariably leave out something of great importance. However, here are what I believe to be the most significant events in world football in 2013 up to now.
Killing two birds with one stone is always a good idea so let’s start with a Manchester United double. The Reds quite comprehensively achieved their aim of wrestling back the Premier League crown from noisy neighbours City, in no small part thanks to their capture of Robin Van Persie, and in the process silencing those doubters who were speaking of a shift in the balance of power in not just Manchester, but England as a whole. However, this success was marred with more than a tinge of sadness by the retirement of the infamous, god-like figure that is Sir Alex Ferguson. The man who created one of, if not the biggest empire in world football finally left his seat in the dugout for a nice warm hospitality box where he can cast an eye over his successor’s work. The Glaswegian born, former Everton manager David Moyes, who comes from a similar working-class background as Fergie, was chosen for his set of principles that closely align with the club’s policy; a willingness to blood youth players, discipline, a solid defence, hard work and most importantly a demand for the utmost of respect between players and management. Although the reds had a shaky start, the past few weeks saw them gain some momentum highlighted by their 1-0 victory over early leaders Arsenal, and although there is a long way to go, it would be dangerous to bet against the Manchester club giving Moyes his first taste of success this year.
Seeing as we’re already in England we may as well stay there. The Premier League this season has been a model of inconsistency with none of the six true title contenders able to put a ruthless run together, whereas the underdogs of Everton and most notably Southampton are still holding their own in the top six. Changes in personnel, both on and off the pitch, obviously haven’t helped with Tottenham losing Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for an apparent world record fee of €100million. Pellegrini at Manchester City has switched between hero and villain with annihilations of Norwich City and Manchester United dotted around several lacklustre displays against the likes of Aston Villa, Cardiff City and Sunderland. Many thought with the return of ‘The Special One’ Chelsea could be running away with the league by Christmas but even Mourinho has encountered problems. An inability to accommodate last year’s player of the year, Juan Mata, into his system has not won him many admirers and the decision to let Lukaku leave on loan in favour of Samuel Eto’o, Demba Ba and of course Torres has caused many to question whether his judgement is as sound as in 2005. Arsenal and Liverpool have surprised a few with club record signing Ozil providing the Gunners with much needed belief whilst Liverpool’s SAS of Sturridge and Suarez have taken pleasure in butchering the defences of almost all before them. However, their true staying power is yet to be tested so only time will tell how real they are as contenders. I really don’t think it’s a bold claim to suggest that this Premier League could be as intriguing as the “Agueroooooooo” year.
Now, time to broaden our horizons and head into Europe’s industrial heartland, to Germany. The record breaking treble of Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern Munich side was simply a joy to witness as 11 different, high quality cogs of one wheel performed perfectly to create what can only be described as a footballing killing machine. A defence and goalkeeper as assured as you like, a midfield axis of the complete midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger and the destroyer of Javi Martinez were complemented perfectly by the pace of Ballon d’or nominee Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben, the unparalleled creativity of Toni Kroos and the work horse-cum-lethal goal scorer that is Thomas Muller. This machine conquered all before them, with the 7-0 aggregate destruction of Barcelona demonstrating that their comparisons with the greats of the past are not unworthy. Just when many thought this Munich team was the pinnacle of football they decided to go and grab Pep Guardiola as their new manager and the star player, Mario Gotze, of their domestic rivals Borussia Dortmund just to let everyone know they weren’t done. Suggesting that this team may come to have a vice-like hold over European football for years to come is not beyond the realms of possibility.
Now, let’s venture further afield to the beaches of Copacabana and the statue of Christ The Redeemer. Yes, we’re off to Brazil for the Confederations cup. If this tournament was a dress-rehearsal for the World Cup next summer then everyone may as well just go for one massive party and not bother playing football. Brazil were in a commanding mood and swept all before them, including the current World and European Champions Spain in the final to win the tournament. Especially at home, when in that sort of form they will be very hard to stop, even without Neymar’s influence. The Barcelona forward was in superlative form scoring a number of outstanding individual goals. Unstoppable comes close to describing his superiority during the tournament and if he continues in the same vein there is nothing to say that Luiz Felipe Scolari won’t be adding another World Cup to his CV. One just hopes, as with the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which faced a number of challenges and quite critical media reporting beforehand, that this World Cup passes off without incident. While many Brazilian fans are complaining that the new Maracana is not a patch on the old version, one hopes that the lasting infrastructure legacy of this tournament and the 2016 Rio Olympics can only bring benefits to the nation of Brazil.
This is definitely not an extensive review of the footballing year but they are what I believe to be the most important events of 2013. However, there are a few more special mentions that deserve more credit than I’m going to give them.
Firstly, the success of Nigeria at the African Cup of Nations on the face of it seems rather irrelevant, but when you look at how the coach was hounded for his policy of promoting youngsters playing at home rather than sticking with the European-based big names, an enormous amount of credit must go to Stephen Keshi for his bravery and forethought. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid also deserve a mention for coping with the loss of Radamel Falcao seamlessly and are now sitting pretty in second place in La Liga having already beaten their big city rivals. Although fatigue may play its part domestically, a potent mix of skill, defensive solidity, an unerring faith that would see the players follow Simeone blindfolded into battle and a knack of doing well in cups, Europe should watch out. They are certainly Champions League dark horses. The Europa League, the ugly sister of European trophies also might spark into life once the teams from the Champions League drop in to it following their pre- Christmas knock out. The latter stages of the trophy, formerly known as the UEFA Cup before Platini and his marketing and PR advisors got their hands on it, has produced many an interesting tie in recent seasons and many can argue has acted as a solid arena in which to bed in talent. The aforementioned dark horses for the cup with big ears, Atletico De Madrid, would certainly agree with me on that front.
It would of course be remiss for any football article not to give a bit shout out to this year’s team who have been adopted by the sports section – Dundee FC. After a difficult relegation from the Scottish Premier League last season, the team have got their groove on and are favourites to get instant promotion from the Championship back to the bovril soaked pinnacle of the Scottish professional ranks. The editor of the section will be with them every step of the way on what will be a bumpy ride through the midriff of Scottish football, with some seriously dodgy pies thrown in for good measure. You are no man until you have survived a Dens Park pie, he tells me.
Once again then, football has given us a wonderful 2013. Full of passion and excitement it kept us on our toes. As to be expected there were highs and lows for all, but whichever team you support you’ll come back for more next year. Plus, it’s a World Cup year, so it’s going to be a good ’un.